A North Atlantic right whale calf found dead off the coast of New Jersey last week was hit at least twice by ships, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
The endangered whales typically spend the summer off the coast of New England and – increasingly – Canada. In the winter, females migrate south to the coast of Georgia and north Florida, where they give birth.
The male calf had been the first one seen by researchers in the calving grounds this past winter.
“The loss of every right whale is a detriment to this critically endangered species, but it is particularly hard when we lose a calf, given how few have been born in the last several years,” Kim Damon-Randall, NOAA’s Deputy Regional Administrator for the Greater Atlantic Region said in a statement.
Monitors spotted ten calves this winter. Aside from the one found dead in New Jersey, another one had serious injuries from a ship and hasn’t been seen for a few months.
There are about 400 North Atlantic right whales left, and in recent years more have been dying than have been born. More than thirty whales have turned up dead since 2017, most of them killed by ships or fishing gear.
“Every death is a horrific blow to the species’ recovery,” Whitney Webber, campaign director at the environmental group Oceana, said in an emailed statement.
The group is pushing for regulations requiring slower ship speeds in more areas when the whales are around. Oceana released an analysis earlier this year showing that more than 40% of ships in a voluntary speed zone near Nantucket did not slow down to the suggested lower speed.
There are some designated places – off the coasts of Georgia and Massachusetts – where ships are required to slow down to 10 knots when whales are present.